While not as far-reaching as the GT3 platform, the GTE ranks often produces some of the top GT racing talent in the world, thanks to heavy factory participation in both the FIA World Endurance Championship and IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. Special Contributor John Dagys take a look at the top-10 drivers from the GTE/GTLM classes from the 2016 international sports car racing season.
10. Nick Tandy (IMSA race-winner)
While it was a tough season for Porsche in the GTLM ranks with only a single, inherited, victory at Long Beach after Fred Makowiecki’s collision with Tommy Milner, the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours winner held strongly as one of the top drivers in the category. 32-year-old Tandy and the equally potent Patrick Pilet led the way for the CORE autosport-run Porsche North America squad in the WeatherTech Championship, which battled tire woes and BoP with its upgraded 911 RSR. Few could argue that his long-awaited promotion to Porsche’s LMP1 team for 2017 is richly deserved.
9. Tommy Milner (IMSA champion, Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner)
Corvette Racing’s year to remember included strong runs from the American driver, particularly Milner’s late-race charge at Road America that delivered he and Oliver Gavin their fourth GTLM class victory of the year in the WeatherTech Championship. A race-ending accident at Le Mans was one of the only negative points from Milner’s championship-winning season, although the team were not in contention for the podium anyway.
8. Harry Tincknell (WEC GTE-Pro race-winner)
The protege of Allan McNish showcased his potential at the wheel of a GT car this year, with the former Nissan LMP1 factory pilot having been one of the standout drivers in the Ford’s WEC program. Tincknell’s early season performance in the Ford was rewarded with an unexpected full-season drive, capped off with class wins in Fuji and Shanghai alongside Andy Priaulx. With his European Le Mans Series LMP2 title factored in, it was a hugely successful year for the likeable Englishman.
7. Dirk Mueller (Le Mans 24 Hours GTE-Pro winner)
The ex-BMW factory ace was one of the leading Ford drivers in the WeatherTech Championship. While unable to deliver a class win in the States, Mueller helped take the Blue Oval to a historic victory at Le Mans, alongside an equally strong Joey Hand and Sebastien Bourdais, having been the quickest GTE-Pro driver all weekend in the French endurance classic.
6. James Calado (WEC GTE-Pro race-winner)
Tasked with filling Toni Vilander’s boots alongside Ferrari standout Gianmaria Bruni, the ex-open wheel ace came of age this year, showing his true potential at the wheel of a GT car. Having been hampered by BoP struggles all year, Calado and Bruni managed to score only a single victory but ended up on the podium in every race the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE finished, following retirements at Spa and Le Mans. Calado also added victory in the Petit Le Mans to his growing resume, ending the Risi Competizione team’s spell of rotten luck.
5. Ryan Briscoe (IMSA runner-up)
The ex-IndyCar ace was among the leading drivers at Ford, helping deliver the first win for the American manufacturer at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca alongside Richard Westbrook, in what was arguably the strongest GTLM driver pairing in the WeatherTech Championship. The Australian’s past experience with Ganassi certainly played a part in this, as he, Westbrook and engineer Brad Goldberg struck an easy rapport.
4. Oliver Gavin (IMSA champion, Daytona 24 Hours and Sebring 12 Hours winner)
It was a banner year for Corvette Racing and the tall Englishman played a key part in nearly all of its success. From the photo-finish at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, to a repeat victory at Sebring and claiming Corvette’s 100th win at Lime Rock Park, Gavin and Milner took the Bowtie brigade to a convincing GTLM championship, despite a season-long battle with Ford. Although Gavin was unable to defend his Le Mans title, it was certainly not through a lack of effort and application.
3. Nicki Thiim (WEC GT Drivers Champion)
The rapid Dane enjoyed a standout year, teaming with countryman Marco Sorensen for the WEC GTE World Championship, with class wins at Circuit of The Americas and Bahrain. After seasons split in Porsche Supercup, ADAC GT Masters and other championships, Thiim’s sole focus on the WEC with Aston Martin Racing certainly paid off, despite potential BoP favors and the controversy surrounding the constant chopping and changing during the year. An enormously popular figure in the team, ‘Dansky Jr’ has a long career ahead of him at this level.
2. Richard Westbrook (IMSA race-winner)
Perhaps the quickest GTLM driver in the WeatherTech Championship all year, the Englishman quickly adapted back to his GT roots and helped deliver a strong first season for Ford. Westbrook and Ryan Briscoe’s class victory at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, the first for the Ford GT, kicked off a three-race win streak for the pairing. Westbrook’s season-high three poles also showed his strength as one of the best GT pilots in the world – with improved durability from the GT, the GTLM title has to be the goal for Westbrook in 2017.
1. Gianmaria Bruni (WEC GTE-Pro race-winner)
Ferrari’s standout driver, Bruni was unable to show his strengths through much of the WEC season, due to factors out of his control – namely unreliability and the BoP controversy that struck the GTE-Pro class. The Italian ace, however, upped his game, especially with the arrival of Calado as his new co-driver in the No. 51 AF Corse Ferrari 488 GTE. While only claiming one class victory at the Nurburgring after Bruni put a classic move on Thiim, the pairing should have won many more.
Honorable Mentions: Marco Sorensen (WEC GT Drivers Champion), Davide Rigon (WEC GT Drivers runner-up), Joey Hand (Le Mans 24 Hours GTE-Pro winner), Pedro Lamy (WEC GTE-Am runner-up) and Bill Auberlen (IMSA two-time pole-sitter).